Officials prepare for wildfire season |

Officials prepare for wildfire season

— Routt County and Colorado are once again on high alert as a dry winter gives way to wildfire season.

“Unless we get a lot of rain in April and May, we’re looking at a pretty dry summer,” Routt County Emergency Management Director Bob Struble said Wednesday.

Snow is still present at higher elevations, but down in the valley, conditions are dry.

Firefighters in Yampa have already fought one wildfire. On Sunday, an agricultural burn grew out of control because of high winds and burned part of a pasture and sagebrush.

“The wind came up, and that fire ran pretty good,” Struble said.

The Hayden area has yet to see any fires get out of control. Fire Chief Dal Leck said he thinks the strong winds so far have discouraged ranchers from undertaking burns.

Hayden firefighters are still prepared in case they get the call. They did wildfire training Tuesday night.

Local ranchers use controlled burns to clean out ditches, burn dead vegetation, promote grass regeneration and replenish nutrients to the soil.

Before doing a burn, people are asked to let the Routt County Sheriff’s Office know by calling 970-870-5501. Ranchers should also check the weather and can call the National Weather Service for a forecast at 970-243-7007.

Struble said ranchers should also let their neighbors know about planned burns. A ranch subdivision west of Steamboat has been doing burns in the past week, but some residents, including one woman, were alarmed because they were not informed about the burns, Struble said.

“All of the sudden, she saw flames and got a little excited, and you really can’t blame her,” Struble said.

Ranchers are also encouraged to never leave a fire unattended, to establish fire breaks, to have water and shovels on hand and to have plenty of help in case things get out of control.

As spring progresses, the wildfire concern shifts from out-of-control agricultural burns to forest fires, which are most often caused by lightning.

Most of Routt County is currently enduring a moderate drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. Most of Moffat County is enduring a severe drought.

Fire managers are closely monitoring the snowpack in the mountains. On Wednesday, the snowpack in the Yampa and White River Basins was at 64 percent of average. At the Tower monitoring site on Buffalo Pass, the snowpack was at 63 percent of average.

When conditions get dry enough, counties and land managers in Colorado will routinely institute fire restrictions that can prohibit things like campfires. If the weather pattern continues, Struble thinks the area could see fire restrictions this summer.

According to the National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center, there are equal chances for above normal, normal and below normal temperatures in the next three months. There is a 33 percent chance that the area will receive above normal precipitation.

To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247, email or follow him on Twitter @SBTStensland

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